August 30, 2011

Unplanned Visitor

I have learned with time to let my garden speak to me.

I don't mean that I actively talk to my plants (although I do admit to talking to my backyard birds).  When I say 'let my garden speak to me', it's more about letting go of complete control.

Sometimes a garden will let you know what it wants to do. A perennial that you thought you had completely removed will stubbornly regrow and flourish. A plant that you desperately want to grow may refuse to--letting you know in no uncertain terms that your conditions do not suit it. A plant that you never placed in your garden may appear, perhaps a gift of a passing bird, the wind or a stowaway on a garden centre pot.

I currently have a lovely unplanned visitor. I almost pulled it out when I saw the unknown green sprout growing in the crack between the stones of our front steps a few weeks ago. I am so glad that I didn't. Now we have a sweet alyssum plant welcoming us as we approach our front door. Spontaneity in the midst of structure. A good reminder.

August 26, 2011

A Castle in the Forest

Have you ever watched your children do something and you have been totally amazed and interested by what they have done? You're not sure that you could have done the same thing or even have thought of it. You are just a happy witness to its splendid execution.

My daughters and their cousin said that they wanted to go into the forest. We are spending the week with my parents who live on the edge of a forest on the banks of Lake Muskoka. I wasn't certain what they had in mind. They are two pre-teens and a teenager who no longer require constant supervision.  The forest they wanted to explore is on our property.

What did they do?

Well, it took more than a day. It is beautiful and amazing and could belong in an art museum if there were an art museum for forest creations.

A large rock and the roots of a fallen tree were used for its back wall.  At least a hundred branches were then leaned and woven together.  Long pieces of grass were braided to form rope which was then tied to create a moveable door or flap. The floor is carpeted lushly with ferns.  Flowers and more ferns adorn the walls, grass ropes and door.

I asked them what I should call it and gave them a number of suggestions:  tee-pee, lean-to, dwelling, wigwam, shelter, abode, fort.   The oldest of the three thought for a moment and then said, 'Castle'.

August 25, 2011

Muskoka Morning

On the dock in my beloved Toms shoes (one of several pairs I own)

Tuesday had the perfect beginning: calm water, beautiful sunrise, a loon in the distance; my canine companion, a coffee cup and book nearby. Meeko often tilted his nose upwards to catch the lovely early day smells. A duck and her ducklings lingered close to the dock as if begging for a photo but I think it is more likely that a neighbouring cottager is feeding them.

Yesterday's weather was more unsettling with a tornado watch most of the day and evening but thankfully we only experienced light thunderstorms.

I am working on a painting today and will post it in the days ahead.

August 23, 2011

Cupcake Cousins

"Too many cooks spoil the broth."  Perhaps that's true where broth is involved, but more than one cook can work very nicely especially if they are two creative cousins collaborating on cupcakes.

After a search for a cupcake recipe and a discussion about artificial colouring not being the best thing to use for icing, my youngest daughter and her cousin came up with the idea of making lemon cupcakes with blueberry frosting.  They decided to use fresh blueberries to colour and flavour their icing.  Like two mad scientists, they laboured over their experimental bowl of icing--blending the juice from squashed blueberries with icing sugar, butter, lemon rind, lemon juice and then adding more icing sugar to thicken their mixture.  In the end, what they had was more of a glaze than icing but what a glorious glaze it was.  To build on their berry theme, they decided to decorate the cupcakes with bits of fresh strawberries.

The result?  Beautiful and delicious lemon berry cupcakes that could have been served with pride at the very nicest restaurant.  Cousins baking together in the cottage kitchen?  A very good idea indeed.

August 22, 2011


We are enjoying a week on beautiful Lake Muskoka--a week of family time, reading, walking, arts and crafts, and lake activities.

The weather is a little cooler and rainier than we hoped for but it doesn't diminish the fun.

My youngest daughter Chloé went out in the kayak and was greeted at the dock by our dog Meeko. (Meeko loves to swim but hasn't mastered a kayak yet.)

Meeko spent ages swimming in the lake with his best buddy and super dock-diver Marlowe.

On one of the rainy afternoons, we sat around the big dining table and made rubber stamps using a method taught to me by the wonderful Mexican artist Geninne. (I was lucky enough to attend her recent workshop in Toronto but she also has a free tutorial available on her lovely website). My daughters, niece and nephew made many, many beautiful stamps. I made a few and even got my dad to try making one. So we had three generations working together at one time!

August 17, 2011

Trowel & Paintbrush & Power Tool

On occasion in the past few years, when I wasn't picking up my paintbrush as often as I should have and my garden wasn't needing me, I have turned to projects within the house. My birthday and Christmas wish lists have often included a power tool or two.

One of the biggest projects I ever tackled was making a headboard for my eldest daughter. It was a lot of work but it really turned out to be something I am proud of. It is made of solid wood and measures about six feet tall. Inset on its front are gorgeous fabric panels trimmed with beads and shells. (The panels were actually sold as table runners.) I installed a lamp that's perfect for reading at its top.

The headboard is front of mind these days as it is about to enter a new phase of its life. It has been in Emma's room for six years now and she is ready for a change, both in colours and in furniture. The most obvious choice is to move it to her younger sister's room but that will mean repainting it and also changing the fabric panels. My daughters' colour choices, just like their personalities, are completely different.

It was initially hard to thinking of transforming the headboard, but I am coming around to it more and more. It's had a good life and can be cherished for a few more years with a slightly different exterior. My thought at the moment is to replace the shell panel with something softer and cushier. Emma has told me that the shell panels, while beautiful, were not always a comfortable surface when reading in bed.

Being ready to adapt furniture, even handmade, is part of the larger process we are going through in our house.  It's about accepting and embracing change as our daughters grow and evolve.

August 14, 2011

Garden Pest

I mentioned in one of my last posts that I had been recently dealing with a particularly challenging garden pest.  It's actually been more than a year now.

I have spent hours dealing with the aftermath of this pest's activity.

I have had to remove plants and move plants.  I have had to accept plants being in less than ideal condition.  I have had to regard 11 years' worth of work in my garden in a totally different light.  It's no longer a case of it being enough that something pleases me to be included in my garden.  I have to ask myself:  does it still belong here, is it resistant, will it survive?

This has not just affected the softscape of my garden but the hardscape as well.  We had family guests this past weekend and my sister-in-law, a fellow gardener, came back from a stroll around my garden and asked me, 'What are these strange metal things everywhere in your flower beds?'

I had hoped that maybe they looked like miniature garden sculptures.  They certainly took as long as an art project might have.  I spent at least two days carefully cutting 75 squares of fine chicken wire, wrapping each one around a copper pipe so that it maintained a circular shape and then attaching them throughout the beds of my backyard garden.

Are you starting to feel a little worried that maybe your garden will be victim of this horrific pest next?  It sounds more challenging than aphids or slugs or squirrels, doesn't it?  I wouldn't be too concerned about this pest's activity in your garden.  I'm pretty certain that a good fence will keep it contained in mine.

Would you like to see some photos?

Meet my garden pest.  His name is Meeko.  He is 17 months old and he is a soft-coated Wheaten terrier.  Isn't he cute?  On some days, his cuteness is his saving grace.

Those 75 miniature garden sculptures?  They are armour for my irrigation system.  Meeko systematically chewed 25 (one third) of my sprinklers this past spring.  Imagine looking out the back door and seeing this fluffy fellow joyfully bounding by with a sprinkler in his mouth and the tubing trailing behind...25 times.

And that is the key.  His joy. 

It is hard to remain angry too long.  In the end, it's my problem isn't it?  I either need to teach him not to do it or to deter him.  Spraying the sprinklers with tabasco only worked for a short while.  Being beside him constantly could work, but that's ultimately impractical.  In the end, it was up to me to figure out a way to protect my irrigation system while I taught him not to chew it.  The ugly chicken-wire armour is working for now.  Plus, I now know how to repair our irrigation system and can add that to my long I-Fixed-It! list in my back pocket.

When I planted my garden initially, I was thinking about making it safe for toddlers and, as the years passed, I became less concerned about the toxicity of plants. If it was beautiful and it suited my soil, light conditions and zone (which is complicated enough, right?), in it went. Since Meeko's arrival, I have moved my lily-of-the-valley to our front yard and I have fenced in our tulip and daffodil plants.  I've positioned other fences in a criss-cross fashion to curb his back and forth runs through my perennial beds.  I've trimmed the berries off of my holly bushes and plan to either plant them in the front or give them to a friend.  I have removed my autumn crocuses and have been plucking out all morning glory vines as they reappear. 

Last summer, when he was a young puppy, he couldn't pass by a plant without taking a biteful. This summer, his garden activity is, in many ways, calmer.  With time, I can see that the plants will be less of a concern although I think I will always have to content myself with a less than perfect garden.

In an article in The New York Times last summer, Ian Dunbar who is a noted U.S. veterinarian, animal behaviorist and dog trainer said, “Dogs look at things in the garden, and they have two questions: can I chew it or can I pee on it? That really is the depth of their philosophy. And they’re happy with that.”

As for me, am I happy with my new gardening partner and his simple philosophy?  He's challenging but yes.  I love him dearly and wouldn't trade him for anything.  And things are getting better.  This morning, as I mulled over writing this post, I thought 'At least he hasn't dug any holes lately.' 

And then, not too much later, he ran in from the backyard with his muzzle covered in dirt.  The joy of the moment wins again.

August 12, 2011

Mother Nature As Artist

Sometimes the colours found in nature are just amazingly beautiful. 

I would like to pretend that this is the harvest from my garden but, if you read my previous post, you know the current state of my vegetable patch.  And, of course, it would be wishful thinking on my part to try and grow Rainier cherries in my Zone 5 garden in Eastern Canada.

The beans and tomatoes come from the wonderful organic farm that we have been receiving a weekly basket from for the past 16 years.  I wish you could touch the yellow tomatoes in the foreground of the photo.  They are 'peach tomatoes' and they really do have a soft, fuzzy exterior.  As they ripen a little more, they will get some rosy, peachy tones on their skin which sometimes also show up on the inside flesh.  They are almost too pretty to eat!

August 11, 2011

Works in Progress: Tulip and Begonia Paintings

Yesterday, my daughters nudged me out of the computer chair (so hard to leave it when you first start a blog!) and back in front of my paintbox.  I worked on two small paintings:  one of a begonia from the garden and the other, a tulip taken from one of my spring photos.  Neither painting is quite finished.

Both are on lovely deckle-edged watercolour papers from the Saint-Armand paper mill in Montreal.

August 10, 2011

An Archway Fit for a Garden Gnome

Did anyone spot the heart shape in the archway made by the bent rose of sharon shrub in my previous post?  I didn't see it until the post was up. 

I think the garden gnomes will be happy.  I'm going to take it as a sign of more positive things to come. :)

The Space Formerly Known As My Garden

Do you remember 'the artist formerly known as Prince'?  Well, that's a bit the way I am feeling about my garden these days.  I mean 'the space formerly known as my garden'.

I have had my garden for 11 years and I have put an enormous amount of time and energy into designing, maintaining and constantly changing it.  One of my relatives has referred to it in the past as 'the botanical garden'.  I have flower beds everywhere and they are full of trees, shrubs, spring bulbs and perennials.

But, this past season, it has been suffering.  It didn't help that our spring was miserable which made planting annuals in my normal early- to mid-May window foolish.  So I waited.  Then I got caught up in a huge, time-consuming volunteer project for my youngest daughter's school in June, designing and publishing the yearbook for the graduating Grade Six class.  So I waited some more.  We left for our holiday in London and Paris right after school ended.  We returned to our house in July and a garden full of empty pots and bare annual beds.  Weeds had taken full advantage of my absence and were towering over the perennials in the mixed beds. My vegetable bed, normally an organized, productive and beautiful corner, only sported the few brave herbs and flowers that had made it through the winter or reseeded themselves and, of course, a terrifying tangle of weeds.

Veggies anyone?
To complicate things further, I have also been dealing with a very challenging garden pest that I will leave for another post.

There are still pockets of it that are beautiful.  That's the advantage of using perennials, shrubs and trees.  They can manage on their own for a certain amount of time without too much human intervention.

The hydrangeas in the top photo have been blooming beautifully.  One particularly gorgeous shrub this year is a rose of sharon bush (hibiscus syriacus) that I planted 11 years ago.  This year, it had a huge growth spurt (perhaps it's approaching adolescence?) and has been covered with masses of blooms.  The past few days, it has been just stunning.

I went out this morning to take a picture to include in my blog and guess what I found?  It toppled over during the night and is bent in two.  It's not broken, just really, really bent. We had a thunderstorm last night and I guess that the wind coupled with the weight of the blooms were too much for it.  I'm going to have to prune it sharply.  I don't have the heart to do it while it is in bloom, so I think I will leave it the way it is for now, an archway for any elves or dwarves who care to visit the 'space formerly known as my garden'.

August 9, 2011

My Paintings

In past months, I have been painting more regularly.  Flowers, more often than not, tend to be my inspiration.

Tulip and Snowdrop paintings (both on 140 lb. Arches paper)

I like to paint small formats but occasionally will paint a larger painting like the 11½ x 15 inch painting below.  Some people wouldn't consider this to be large, but it is for me!

Wildflowers on 300 lb. Arches paper

The painting below is smaller.  The paper measures 7 3/4 x 5 3/4 inches.  Just because the format is smaller, don't assume that I painted it quickly!  I am a slowpoke painter. I work slowly and love detail. The Paris Flower Market painting took ages--both because there is so much detail in the flowers and the 300 lb. paper seemed to be eating my paint!   I'm not certain that it is finished yet.

Paris Flower Market on 300 lb. Arches paper

August 8, 2011

A Birthday in Paris

I was lucky enough to spend the beginning of the summer in London and Paris on vacation with my family. 

We were in Paris on my birthday so I got to choose what we did that day.  At the top of my list was visiting le Musée de l'Orangerie where Claude Monet's beautiful waterlily paintings Les Nymphéas are installed.  I've been there before but it was still a magical experience to be wrapped by those gorgeous paintings.  The first time I visited that museum many years ago, I actually burst into tears.  It's one thing to see pictures of paintings in books, it's another to be standing right in front of them--especially beautiful paintings of such a magnificent scale.

A walk along La Seine, a visit to a tiny, lovely art supply store called Sennelier (it's been there since 1887!) to buy some paintbrushes and dinner in one of our favourite restaurants rounded out a very special day.

A lovely arrangement on the welcome desk of L'Orangerie

A New Adventure

I'm taking a deep breath.  I have thought about doing this for ages and here I am finally at the beginning of my blog. 

I am a watercolour painter, a passionate gardener and a dedicated mother.  I am other things too but these passions seem to be the primary ones that consume and motivate me on an ongoing basis. 

In this blog, I hope to chronicle the progress of my painting projects and the ongoing state of my garden (sometimes a paradise, sometimes in ruins).  Along the way, I'm sure that I will comment on other parts of my life as they interest and occupy me.  Be patient with me in the weeks ahead as I'm certain that it will take awhile to get things the way I want them.  But better to start this adventure now than to wait any longer.



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